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Reviews/Music/Perth Festival

Perth’s back in black

2 March 2020

As Perth Festival parties to an end, David Zampatti joins thousands of AC/DC fans in black T-shirts and bad hair-dos on the Highway to Hell.

Review: Perth Festival, Highway to Hell ·
Canning Highway, 1 March 2020 ·
Review by David Zampatti ·

The story goes that there’s a secret society down Fremantle way with a specific mission: every night, heatwave or cold front, a member slips quietly into Fremantle cemetery and places a bottle of Scotch on a grave. By morning it’s gone – next night there’s another one.

If, 50 years ago, you’d have told the tenant of that grave, Ronald Belford Scott, that one day he’d close Canning Highway all the way from the Raffles Hotel to Fremantle, he’d have given you that cock-eyed grin of his and said: “Holy fuck, what did I do?”

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Quite a lot, as it turned out. From 24 October 1974, when he joined an unknown Sydney band called AC/DC, until he died from a devil’s brew of intoxicants in London on 19 February 1980, he carved a name for himself as the most distinctive of all hard rock front men. In the 40 years since he died, “Bon” Scott’s legendary status has grown to gargantuan dimensions, mirroring the rise and rise of his band in terms of record sales, concert attendance and cross-generational recognition, to rank among the greatest in the history of rock music.

One title the Accadaccas can surely claim is that they’ve moved more merch than any other band – so much so that a black T-shirt seems incomplete without AC/DC emblazoned on it.

WA Brass get into full Accadacca mode. All photos this page: Jess Wyld

That was certainly the case on Sunday, when 150,000-odd fans – most wearing those T-shirts – descended on Canning Highway on the 40th anniversary of Scott’s funeral. It was Perth Festival’s huge closing event, 10km of free family rock and roll, the brainchild of festival director Iain Grandage.

Nowhere was blacker than the pop-up concert venue in front of the Raffles where the hardest of the band’s hard-core fans gathered to warm up for the parade with that other South-of-the-River legend, Dave Warner.

Divalicious in full flight. Photo: Jess Wyld

Among the sea of hardened faces and warrior hairstyles, a young guy wearing an orange Led Zeppelin T-shirt attracted pitying looks – it was no day for any other band (or the West Coast Eagles – a quick scan of the crowd’s football allegiances came back overwhelmingly purple).

Cold comfort for Opposition Leader Liza Harvey too, as Premier Mark McGowan achieved the unique distinction for a politician of addressing a huge public gathering without a single boo or catcall. Boy, were we in a good mood! He then had the honour of ringing the Hell’s Bell to start the eight flatbed trucks carrying bands rocking and rolling down the highway towards Freo. They rocked past even more thousands of punters lining the road or hunkered down at four packed pit-stops, the crowd at one of which set a new world record for mass air-guitar playing, praise the Lord!

Ministry of rock, from left, West Australian Tourism Minister Paul Papalia, Perth Festival director Iain Grandage, Arts Minister David Templeman and Premier Mark McGowan.

The trucks carried acts as diverse as the Kimberley’s own Pigram Brothers and Japan’s Shonan Knife, locals Abbe May, Odette Mercy and legendary Stemsman Dom Mariani. There were the opera flaunters Divalicious on a footbridge, and the delicious Jam Tarts in a park, pipe bands and symphony orchestras, all giving the AC/DC repertoire a good old-fashioned thrashing.

Look, like its departed guest of honour, Highway to Hell got a bit ramshackle at times and you needed to pick your spot to get the best of it often enough (“Not much bang for your buck” muttered one bloke leaving early, who had obviously managed to buy a ticket to the free event). But the overwhelming spirit of Bon-homie and ScoMo-like “how-good-is-this?” made those the sort of qualms only a grumpy theatre critic at the end of a long festival season would dare to say out loud. Good on ya Bon. “Let There Be Rock!” (cue air guitar solo).

Pictured top: Thousands of fans lined Canning Highway from the Raffles Hotel to Fremantle on Sunday for the big free finale of Perth Festival, ‘Highway to Hell’.

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Author —
David Zampatti

David Zampatti has been a student politician, a band manager, the Freo Dockers’ events guy, a bar owner in California, The West Australian’s theatre critic and lots of other crazy stuff. He goes to every show he’s reviewing with the confident expectation it will be the best thing he’s ever seen.

Past Articles

  • Tributes to musical idols light up stage

    A cabaret veteran and opera performer bring very different interpretations of the greats of classical, jazz and pop in the second week of the Perth International Cabaret Festival, writes David Zampatti

  • Life is a cabaret festival

    From an exquisite performance by Lior to mashed up anthems of gender equality, the opening weekend of the Perth International Cabaret Festival provides plenty of reasons to come hear the music play, writes David Zampatti.

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